Thanks to a European Union exchange project launched in July, Halifax has found a new, civic pal in the city of Tallinn, Estonia.
The initiative, called the World Cities Project, unites eight European and Canadian cities to collaborate on innovative means to adapt to climate change, reduce carbon emissions and increase biodiversity.
Five Halifax planners and developers are embarking on a trip today to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, to participate in a conference with participating cities. The group’s itinerary includes meetings on sustainability and innovation, traditional wine tasting in a Basque palace and the collective goal of strengthening our city’s friendship with Tallinn.
Juxtaposed: a side-by-side look at Halifax and Tallinn cityscapes.
The Halifax delegation includes:
- Carl Purvis, acting supervisor of community planning for the HRM
- Jennifer Chapman, a planner and urban designer for the city
- Shannon Miedema, acting manager of energy and environment for Halifax
- Andy Boutilier, assistant coordinator for emergency management in the HRM
- Eric Rapaport, a professor at Dalhousie’s School of Planning.
After their trip to Spain, the delegates will travel to Estonia to experience the urban systems and environmental values of the city first-hand.
Other paired cities include: Ottawa with Hannover, Germany; Saanich, B.C., with Almada, Portugal; and Edmonton with Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
Tallinn in 100 words
“The Estonians have been there for about 10,000 years, so roughly the same amount of time as the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia,” said John Soosaar, Estonia’s Honorary Consul in Halifax.
Tallinn is home to approximately 32 per cent of the nation’s population. Once an important trading port, Tallinn was a transition spot for furs and timbers between Russia and central Europe.
Now, the city is renowned for its tech-savvy, startup friendly culture.
“Many people don’t know that Estonia has a paper-free government and that Skype was started there,” said Soosaar. “You can go into the woods and get Wi-Fi.”
Twin cities make friends over beer
Halifax and Tallinn share similar geographical sizes and populations of around 400,000 residents, as well as chilly, coastal climates. Shannon Miedema says Halifax and Tallinn were an easy match.
Most importantly, she added, Estonians share Haligonians’ love of local beer: “They’re really interested in our craft breweries. That’s some common ground.”
Lots to learn
Though the project is still in its infancy and specific initiatives have yet to be laid out, Miedema hopes Halifax will use this European Union-funded opportunity to learn from Tallinn’s advanced technological and environmental structures.
“Tallinn has some really innovative things,” she said, referring to the city’s free transit system, efficient waste and energy facilities, and policies on biodiversity and climate change.
“They’re very science-focused and very advanced…and they seem to be very proud of that,” she said.
Miedema especially hopes Halifax can advance or update its climate change plan based on Tallinn’s model.
The project is set to close in February 2016 with a review of shared learning at the 2016 Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference in Ottawa.